When I was pregnant, I had grand plans for my life with baby. These plans were largely based on the stories and advice of other parents, both real and imagined (by ‘imagined’ I mean those gracing the cover of my Who magazine each week). I envisioned café visits with friends - my baby happily sitting in its cradle as I chatted away. Picnics in the park - pretty rug, cute kid giggling, me enjoying homemade sandwiches. Family nights out - fish and chips on the beach, barefoot baby, sunset walks…
Seriously, was I on drugs??
Jokes aside, I knew that my life was going to change…a lot. I knew that nights out would become rare and nights up with baby would become the norm. I was well aware of the enormity of what I was doing and that significant lifestyle changes would result…but I was still clinging to this notion that if I could get my baby into a routine and get them ‘used to' going out and mixing with other people, then I would still be able to do all the things I’d imagined. That is what everyone kept telling me – as if that was the simple key to successful parenting.
When my baby came along I quickly realised that this was not going to be. I didn’t get the ‘coffee and cake kid’, I got the ‘put a five point harness on me and I’ll find three ways to break out, two ways to launch myself out of the highchair, and one way to successfully end your café visit before your coffee is percolated’ child :).
So what did I do? Well, what do most of us do at times like these? We look for solutions, we look for ways to make things ‘work’ again. We look for ways to fit square pegs into round holes.
That’s when I fell into the trap of trying to ‘fix’ something that wasn’t necessarily broken in the first place…
Just Google feeding or sleep times for newborn and you’ll be bombarded with information from ‘experts’ on how often your child should sleep, feed, poop, wig out…oh no, that’s right they don’t talk about the ‘wigging out’ ;). There’s a world of information on getting your newborn into a routine, what you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing – how doing everything you’re told to do will result in a baby that sleeps all night and a mum that can play all day. Pressure much?
I remember scratching out my feeding times on whatever piece of paper I could find within arm’s reach, feeling inadequate because I couldn’t remember a simple thing like picking up the ‘mother’s journal’ someone had gifted me to neatly record each and every feeding time of my child for the first three months of their life. I remember feeling so overwhelmed as I looked to other people for advice about how often to feed, when my baby should be sleeping, for how long, when their sleep cycles shift or decrease…because my child just didn’t FIT the recommended routine (at all).
I was so consumed with being able to plan my days around my child because everyone else seemed to be able to lock in solid ‘catch-up’ plans with me whilst I was scratching my head, living from moment to moment, never knowing 30 minutes ahead of time when my baby (IF my baby) would sleep…that I lost sight of what was possibly much more important.
I didn’t bring my baby into this world to fit neatly into my life. I EXPECTED that my life would be turned upside-down. I expected that I would need to make changes and adjust my lifestyle. I guess I just didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to let go of the false expectations I had set up during pregnancy. Everyone said it was just a matter of getting them into a routine, while nobody mentioned that some babies have feeding issues, sleep issues, digestion issues etc that make a ‘routine’ virtually impossible.
I also hadn’t anticipated how much all the external pressures and expectations of others would impact me. People assuming that because they could do it, I could too. People that forgot what it was like to have a newborn and expected that you’d be able to turn up, on time and (how dare they expect it) fully-dressed. I didn’t anticipate the pressures that are borne through COMPARING your child’s sleep/eat routines with others. Amongst all the chasing, comparing, trying, wishing, questioning, needing, wanting, begging, recording, charting, researching…I lost sight of one key point. My baby needed me. They needed me to feed them when they felt hungry. Put them to bed when they felt tired. Change their nappy when they felt wet.
Children don’t come with a manual for a reason…they, like us (as parents) are all different. Sometimes there’s peace in letting go and accepting things for what they are. It’s ok to break the rules sometimes, and to go against the advice of experts, friends and family. It’s ok to follow your gut or to do all the ‘bad’ things if it means you’ll get an extra bit of sleep, or a break from the crying. These days don’t last forever, it will fall into place eventually and you will get your life back and some semblance of routine. The time to get there just sometimes takes a little longer...but why cause yourself further stress by trying to do things that just aren’t working just because it is the best approach for the majority?